Norman Lloyd, 1914-2021

At my not-terribly-advanced-but-hardly-a-spring-chicken age, I’m starting to see more and more of my contemporaries dying. Where “58” seemed like a fairly ripe old age when I was in my twenties, it now seems more like “died way too young.” I realize that, using standards of American male life expectancy as my yardstick, I’m definitely in the last foot or so.

But then there’s Norman Lloyd.

Mr. Lloyd died yesterday at the age of 106. He was an actor, director, and producer, on stage, on radio, on film, and on television for eight decades. He worked closely with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. He may be best known to television viewers of my generation as the wise Dr. Auschlander in NBC’s St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988 (where his co-stars included Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Adams himself, William Daniels).

According to his friend Dean Hargrove, who confirmed Lloyd’s death to Variety, Lloyd claimed his longevity was due to “avoiding disagreeable people.”

Now there’s some good advice. Thanks, Norman Lloyd, for an amazing life.

Cardboard Tigers: Trucks, Veryzer, L. Walker

Sixteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Virgil Trucks
Virgil Trucks – 1994 Upper Deck #39

This is a special historical card produced by Upper Deck during the 1994 season, which was major league baseball’s 125th anniversary. My son was briefly interested in baseball cards around 2001 or so and traded with a friend for this one because it was a Detroit player. His interest soon faded and I ended up with his small collection, so here ya go.

Virgil Trucks was a very good pitcher for the Tigers from 1941 to 1952, and then again in 1956. He won 114 and lost 96 for Detroit, had a 3.50 ERA, and struck out 1046 batters over 1800 2/3 innings of work. He was an American League All-Star in 1949 and finished in the top 30 for MVP voting twice.

He was known, for obvious reasons, as “Fire,” and at the time this card was printed in 1994, was one of only four pitchers to throw two no-hitters in the same season. His came in 1952, no-hitting the Washington Senators on May 15 and then the Yankees on August 25. He came close to a third, one-hitting the Senators on July 22. Interestingly, Trucks only won five games total that season, finishing 5-19 on a Tigers squad that went 50-104.

The other pitchers who had two no-hitters in the same season are Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds in 1938 (and his were in consecutive games), Allie Reynolds of the Yankees in 1951, and Nolan Ryan of the Angels in 1973 (his second one came at the expense of the Tigers on July 15). In 2010, Roy Halladay of the Phillies threw a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, then he no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. So technically, he threw two no-hitters in the same year, but not in the same regular season, but that’s quibbling. You go throw a no-hitter, then you can split hairs over records.

Halladay died in 2017 at the age of 40 after a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. His lifetime stats certainly were worthy of the Hall: 203-105 record, 3.38 ERA, 2117 strikeouts. But here are Virgil Trucks’ career stats: 177-135, 3.39 ERA, 1534 strikeouts. Somewhat comparable, but Trucks only got two percent of the votes in his only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1964. His “Hall Rating” on hallofstats.com is 82, which is short of the benchmark of 100 the site uses to determine whether someone is Hall-worthy. Halladay’s Hall Rating is 138, so his election was obviously more than just sentimentality after his untimely death.

Trucks was traded to the St. Louis Browns before the 1953 season, and then the Brownies traded him to the White Sox that June. After the 1955 season, they traded him back to the Tigers along with some guys for some other guys. From there, Detroit traded him to the Kansas City A’s before the 1957 season, and the A’s dealt him to the Yankees in June 1958. The Yankees released him during spring training the following year.

He missed the entire 1944 season and only appeared in one game in 1945 due to military service in World War II. He did, however, get to pitch in the 1945 World Series as the Tigers beat the Cubs, four game to three, to win their second championship.

Trucks’ nephew, Butch Trucks, was a drummer and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Two great-nephews are also musicians: Duane Trucks, drummer for Widespread Panic; and Derek Trucks, who performs with his wife Susan Tedeschi as the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

Virgil Trucks died in March 2013 in Calera, Alabama, at the age of 95.

Tom Veryzer
Tom Veryzer – 1976 Topps #432

Tom Veryzer was a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop with Detroit from 1973 to 1977. Billy Martin, who was the manager of the Tigers in 1973, called him “the best looking young shortstop I’ve ever seen.” Others compared him to Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner and predicted he would be one of the five best shortstops in major league history.

And at least in the field, they came close to being right. His career Range Factor at shortstop of 4.84 is 25th best ever. Unfortunately, his batting prowess never matched his skill with the glove. When he was called up in 1973, he mostly rode the bench behind starting shortstop Ed Brinkman. In 1974, he again spent most of the year in the minors, only appearing in 22 games with the big club. The Tigers traded Brinkman before the 1975 season and the job was Veryzer’s. He had a solid season at the plate, hitting .252 with five home runs and 48 RBI in 404 at-bats. Injuries limited him to only 97 games in 1976, then a terrible start to the 1977 season, in which he his .197 overall, found him splitting playing time with Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener. And when you’re losing playing time to Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener, the writing is on the wall.

Detroit traded him to Cleveland during the off-season, which opened the shortstop spot to a youngster named Alan Trammell. In Cleveland, Veryzer had his two best seasons, in 1978 and 1980, hitting .271 both years and playing outstanding shortstop. He finished his career with the Mets in 1982 and the Cubs in 1983-84; if the Cubs had beaten the Padres in the NLCS that year, he might have played against his old team in the World Series.

For his career, Veryzer hit .241 with 14 homers and 231 RBI. He died in July 2014 in Islip, New York, at the age of 61 after suffering a stroke.

Luke Walker
Luke Walker TRADED – 1974 Topps #612T

Luke Walker pitched for eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1965 to 1974, mostly as a reliever with occasional spot starts. His best season was 1970, when he went 15-6 with a 3.04 ERA and finished tenth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. In 1971, he took a no-hitter deep into a game against the Dodgers, but Joe Ferguson hit a home run (the first of his career) leading off the ninth. The Pirates won the World Series that year, and Walker started Game 4, which was the first World Series game played at night. It didn’t go well for him, as he gave up three hits, walked two (one intentionally), and was charged with three earned runs in only two-thirds of an inning, giving him a career ERA in the World Series of 40.50.

Walker was a solid pitcher, but was terrible at the plate. He had only eleven hits in 188 at-bats in his career for an impressive .059 batting average. One day at Three Rivers Stadium, Walker actually got a hit and the home crowd cheered. Hank Aaron, who was near the end of his career in the National League, thought the cheering might be for him and he tipped his cap to the crowd. Walker said, “Put your hat back on, Hank, they’re cheering for me.”

Despite the “TRADED” label on this card (not to mention the snappy airbrushing on his cap and neck piping), the Pirates actually sold Walker’s contract to Detroit before the 1974 season. He went 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 28 appearances, nine of them starts. The Tigers released him at the end of spring training in 1975.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Let’s try a real-life aircheck.

When I worked in radio a long time ago, I had to pop a cassette tape into a recorder at the start of every shift. It would turn on every time I switched the microphone on, so I could review my show, either on my own (if I’d been diligent, which I was not) or with my program director (which was supposed to be weekly, but since he wasn’t any more diligent than I was, tended to be every month or so). When I did take the time to listen to my “aircheck,” though, I usually discovered speech tendencies that I wasn’t aware of, so I could try to stop doing them.

Since I eventually left radio after seven years, with the largest market I worked in being Mount Pleasant, Michigan, you can see how that turned out.

I thought about airchecks the other day when I caught myself expounding at some length on some topic of great importance (to me, anyway). There are times when such a detailed discussion is appropriate, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t one of them. I’m also pretty sure I was talking in circles and probably repeating things the person I was talking to had already heard from me before. In other words, I was likely overbearing, and worse, boring.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Maybe we need airchecks in our everyday lives.

Cardboard Tigers: Sutherland, Thompson, Timmerman

Fifteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Gary Sutherland
Gary Sutherland “Traded”- 1974 Topps #428T
Gary Sutherland
Gary Sutherland – 1975 Topps #522
Gary Sutherland
Gary Sutherland – 1976 Topps #113
Gary Sutherland – 1973 Topps #572 (I don’t own this card, image borrowed from the intarwebz)

Gary Sutherland leads off this edition of Cardboard Tigers. Sutherland played mostly second base from 1966 to 1978 for seven teams, including the Tigers from 1974 to 1976. His “TRADED” card shown above is interesting because of the sort of odd airbrushing of a Tigers home cap onto a photo where he’s pretty clearly wearing a road grey jersey. And it turns out that jersey isn’t Houston’s, because although he became an Astro in 1972, by the 1973 season Topps still hadn’t gotten a new picture of Gary, so they airbrushed an Astros cap onto a file photo, meaning the jersey is either an Expos or Phillies road grey.

Also, the photo used for his Houston airbrushing is a slightly different take from the one used for his Detroit TRADED card.

Anyway, eventually Gary did get a couple of cards with him wearing his Tigers uniform, the home whites on the 1975 card and the old polyester pullover road set in 1976.

Sutherland was known as “Sudsy,” and if you don’t know why you don’t fully appreciate the depth of creativity that goes into player nicknames. Signed by the Phillies after his sophomore year at Southern Cal in 1964, he made his debut as a late-season call-up in 1966. He played both the outfield and shortstop for the Phils but, when it didn’t appear he’d hit enough to be a regular outfielder or field well enough to be a regular infielder, the Phillies tried to turn him into a catcher. When that didn’t take, they left him exposed to the expansion draft in 1969 and the newly-minted Expos picked him up.

He played three seasons in Montréal, mostly at second base but with some appearances at short, third, and in the outfield – but no catching. From there, he went to the Houston organization for a couple of years, only appearing in 21 big league games while spending most of his time in Oklahoma City and Denver.

The Tigers picked him up in December 1973 along with pitcher Jim Ray for relief pitcher Fred Scherman. He was Detroit’s starting second baseman for the next two seasons, hitting around .250 with little power but playing his position credibly. The Tigers and Brewers (then in the AL East division) swapped second basemen in the middle of the 1976 season, with Sutherland going to Milwaukee and Pedro Garcia heading to Detroit, in a trade that didn’t exactly shake up the fortunes of either team.

He played a handful of games with the Brewers in ’76, the Padres in ’77, and then the Cardinals before being released by St. Louis in May 1978. He stayed in baseball as a scout and administrator, including being a special assistant to the general manager of the Angels from 1999 to 2011, where his duties focused on the team’s scouting operations.

Gary hit .243 for his career with 24 home runs and 239 RBI.

Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson – 1977 Topps #291

Jason Thompson was a power-hitting rookie first baseman for the Tigers in “The Year of the Bird” in 1976. He led the team in home runs that season with 17 and proved to be a solid fielder as well. He’d have probably gotten more notice for both AL and Tigers Rookie of the Year but a young pitcher named Mark Fidrych got most of the attention that summer, for good reasons.

Thompson followed up his promising start with two All-Star seasons in 1977 and 1978, hitting .270 with 31 homers and 105 RBI in ’77, and .287 with 26 home runs and 96 RBI in ’78. He finished 21st in the voting for American League MVP in 1977.

Despite solid production, the Tigers traded Thompson to the Angels in May 1980 for outfielder Al Cowens. During spring training in 1981, California traded him to the Pirates, who then tried to trade him to the Yankees. But the second deal was voided by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn because it exceeded the $400,000 cash considerations limit Kuhn had put in place for any single transaction.

So Thompson found himself on the Pirates, who hadn’t really intended for him to be part of their roster. He got off to a slow start but eventually had another All-Star season in 1982, when he hit .284 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI, and finished 17th in the NL MVP voting. He stayed in Pittsburgh through 1985, then briefly played with the Expos in 1986 before losing his starting job to rookie first baseman Andrés Galarraga and then being released on June 30. A balky knee kept Thompson from attempting to catch on with another team and he retired from baseball.

For his career, Thompson hit .261 with 208 home runs and 782 RBI. He twice hit home runs over the right field roof at Tiger Stadium, which gave him the nickname “Roof Top.”

After his career, Thompson ran Jason Thompson Baseball in Auburn Hills, Michigan, which offered baseball training and camps.

Tom Timmermann
Tom Timmermann – 1972 Topps #239

Tom Timmermann took a long time to make it to the majors, but once he did he proved to be an effective pitcher for the Tigers, as both a starter and reliever, from 1969 to 1973, including posting an 8-10 record and a 2.89 ERA in 25 starts for the 1972 American League East division winners.

Signed in 1960 out of Southern Illnois University in Carbondale, Timmermann moved slowly through the Detroit farm system over the next nine seasons with stops in Montgomery, Durham, Duluth-Superior, Knoxville, Syracuse, Honolulu, and Toledo. Making it to the majors in 1969, he appeared mostly as a reliever, finishing 14 of the 31 games he appeared in. In 1970, he led the team in saves with 27 (third best in the American League) while throwing 85 1/3 innings over 61 appearances. In mid-summer, he recorded either a win (2 total) or a save (9 in all) in eleven straight games. He was chosen “Tiger of the Year” by the Detroit media after the season.

He continued in his relief role in 1971, then Billy Martin moved him into the starting rotation in 1972 as the team went on to win the division before losing in the ALCS to the Oakland A’s.

Detroit traded Timmermann to Cleveland in June 1973 for reliever Ed Farmer. He started 15 games and relieved in 14 for Cleveland, then made only four appearances for them in 1974, spending most of the season in Toledo and Oklahoma City.

Cardboard Tigers: Seelbach, Sharon, Slayback

Fourteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Chuck Seelbach
Chuck Seelbach – 1973 Topps #51
Chuck Seelbach
Chuck Seelbach – 1974 Topps #292

Chuck Seelbach was the Tigers’ closer in their 1972 American League East championship year, appearing in 61 games, finishing 34 of them and picking up 14 saves, which was 7th in the league. The role of “closer,” as we know it today, was quite different in the early seventies, and the key relief role that Seelbach filled was usually a multiple-inning job and didn’t always translate into a save opportunity. The “save” had only been an official MLB statistic since 1969, and teams had only started to play with the idea that a single pitcher might finish every close game that his team was leading as is common now.

In any case, Seelbach was effective in the late innings for the 1972 team and a big reason why they were able to win the division. He went 9-8 with a 2.89 ERA in addition to his 14 saves. He appeared in a total of one inning over two games in the American League Championship Series against Oakland, giving up four hits and two earned runs for an ERA of 18.00. 1972 was the last season without the designated hitter in the AL, so Seelbach also had 26 plate appearances in his career, hitting .143 with two doubles.

In 1973 he starting having arm problems which limited him to just 7 innings that year and 7 2/3 innings in 1974. He spent some time back in Toledo in ’73 as well. He retired at the age of 26 and went on to teach history at his alma mater, University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, for 39 years. One of his sons, Michael, has been an actor in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Reefer Madness, and Wicked.

Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1974 Topps #48
Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1975 Topps #293

If you had to guess where Dick Sharon grew up from either of these cards, but especially the 1975 one, you’d have to say “California,” right? The dude looks like a lost member of Fleetwood Mac. Sharon was born in San Mateo and grew up in Redwood City, which eventually became part of Silicon Valley and now is the headquarters of companies like Oracle, Electronic Arts, Evernote, Box, and Informatica. But back in the early seventies, the only worries Dick Sharon had were where to point his bat to indicate where his next hit was goin’ or showin’ off his awesome follow-through.

Unfortunately for Dick, as much as he looked the part, he had limited success when he actually got to the big leagues. Drafted by the Pirates in 1968 as a third baseman, he was traded to Detroit before the 1973 season for Jim Four and Norm McRae. He hit .242 with seven home runs in 91 games for the Tigers in 1973, then dropped to .217 with only two dingers over 60 games in 1974. He was part of the three-way trade involving Ed Brinkman and Bob Strampe that brought slugging first baseman Nate Colbert to Detroit after the 1974 season.

Sharon played 91 games for the Padres in 1975, hitting .194 with four home runs and 20 RBI. He was traded three times in the next offseason, first to the Cardinals in October; then to the Angels in January; and finally to the Red Sox in March. He spent the 1976 with Boston’s AAA farm team in Pawtucket before retiring.

The notes on baseball cards can be kind of desperate for something nice to say sometimes. Sharon’s 1974 card notes that he “has excellent baseball instincts.” Well, you’d hope so. On the 1975 card Sharon is described as “a sure-handed ballhawk, Dick improved his Batting Average (no idea why that’s capitalized) in each of his four minor league seasons.”

Sharon became a expert fly fisherman in Montana after his major league career ended, owning an equipment shop and leading trips all over the world.

Bill Slayback
Bill Slayback – 1973 Topps #537

Bill Slayback was another member of the 1972 AL East champion Tigers, starting 13 games in his rookie season and going 5-6 with a 3.20 ERA. He also finished five games, though he didn’t record a save. Slayback was drafted in the 7th round of the 1968 amateur draft out of Glendale Community College in California. He moved up the Tigers’ system with stops in Batavia, Lakeland, Rocky Mount, Montgomery, and Toledo before getting called up to the big club in June, 1972. His major league debut on June 26 against the Yankees was a masterpiece, as he threw seven innings of no-hit ball before giving up an eighth-inning single to Johnny Callison as the Tigers went on to win, 4-3.

He spent most of 1973 back in Toledo, then all of 1974 in the majors. Two more seasons (1975 and 1976) in the Tigers’ new AAA affiliate, the Evansville Triplets, finished Slayback’s professional career.

In 1973, Slayback co-wrote a song with Tigers radio play-by-play legend Ernie Harwell called “Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry),” that got some airplay in the U.S. and Japan. Slayback performed the vocal and played most, if not all, of the instruments, was about Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

The song was mentioned in one of Aaron’s biographies, with author Tom Stanton describing Slayback as “something of a Renaissance man. He sang, played numerous instruments, painted, sketched, and made furniture.” In 2006, he released a new CD that got a positive review from then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who knew Slayback from when he was a minor league manager in the Tigers’ system in the seventies. Slayback didn’t look like he should be in Fleetwood Mac, like his teammate Dick Sharon, but he’d have been more useful holding a guitar or playing keyboards alongside Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood, and the McVies.

Bill Slayback died on March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. He was 67 years old.